By David Rattigan, April 1, 2010. Energy efficiency has long been an issue on the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce radar, as evidenced by its annual energy summit, the fourth of which is scheduled for this May 6.

“We’re in an area where a number of our businesses are very concerned about it,’’ said chamber president and CEO Joseph Bevilacqua, who noted that price jumps were making it difficult for companies to survive or plan for the future.

Coupled with support from state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles, that interest is what led to an opportunity that made free comprehensive energy surveys available for 20 to 25 Merrimack Valley businesses, courtesy of the latest round of federal stimulus grants.

The chamber was one of five North region recipients in the recent round of grants. A total of $16.25 million went to 11 projects around the state, all aimed at stimulating the economy by supporting energy-conservation projects. With scheduled launches starting in April through June, the projects are expected to create about 485 jobs, according to a release from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

The chamber received $500,000, most will go toward providing comprehensive energy analysis for local businesses. Grant partner Nexamp, Inc., of North Andover, a comprehensive clean energy company, will provide the analysis as well as an action plan for remediation.

“Our goal is to provide short-, medium-, and long-term energy solutions’’ for each participating company, said Bevilacqua, who said the chamber will also help firms find financing. The chamber is developing criteria for applying and plans to reach out to area businesses in April.

In addition to the grants for regional projects, $1.7 million went to a statewide comprehensive oil-heat energy efficiency program, which will provide services and rebates for inefficient oil boilers and heaters owned by moderate-income families ineligible for low-income fuel subsidies. The program also aims to improve efficiency at oil-heated homes, which comprise 40 percent of the state’s residences but have no access to existing energy-efficiency programs.

The other North region projects, in Lowell, Lawrence, Salem, and Ipswich, involve Deep Energy Retrofits, a comprehensive series of energy-related building improvements to existing buildings.

The other North region projects, in Lowell, Lawrence, Salem, and Ipswich, involve Deep Energy Retrofits, a comprehensive series of energy-related building improvements to existing buildings.

Other North region projects selected include:

  • The United Teen Equality Center, Lowell ($1.9 million) — Founded in 1999 and serving 2,000 annually, the center is an agency that includes a drop-in, safe-haven center and workforce development and educational programming. The project combines a building envelope treatment with passive heating and cooling techniques, which will condition the center with little to no support from mechanical systems.
  • Hawthorne Hotel, Salem ($1.4 million) — The historic landmark will undergo a Deep Energy Retrofit including energy-efficiency measures such as re-lamping and a high-efficiency distribution system for hot water. The hallmark item will be the displacement of natural gas heat with geothermal heating and cooling, paired with high-efficiency interior distribution systems. Three Corners Realty Trust, owner and operator of the hotel, also partnered with Nexamp, Inc.
  • Appleton Farms Center for Agriculture and the Environment, Ipswich ($650,000) — The Architectural Heritage Foundation, in partnership with Historic New England and The Trustees of Reservations, will complete Deep Energy Retrofits at three historic properties, also including The Lyman Estate in Waltham and the Bullit Reservation in Conway and Ashfield. The plans for each property are different and will serve as models for future energy-saving projects at historic properties.
  • Lawrence CommunityWorks, Inc., Lawrence ($550,000) — The community-based development corporation plans a mixed-use complex of mill buildings on the Merrimack River in downtown Lawrence. The Deep Energy Retrofit includes insulation, high-efficiency windows, and air sealing, and the units will be heated by air-source heat pumps, a new technology that will provide the most efficient and cost-effective space conditioning to the building. An Energy Recovery ventilation system will solve the problem of a heat imbalance, where the temperature on the large south-facing wall is as many as 15 degrees more than that on the north side.

“This will allow us to improve the efficiency of the units and ensure the operation will remain affordable in the long run,’’ said Katy Easterly, the project manager.

Wayne Castonguay, general manager of Appleton Farms, said that the farm’s purpose is to be a resource for sustainable agriculture and renewable energy.

“Our mission is to demonstrate sustainability in our lives, from agriculture to managing our resources, environment, and building,’’ he said. “Our goal is to be carbon neutral in two years, and these renovations will be a big part of that effort.’’

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